The grey cats known in the poems as Dork Lao ("lao flower"), or Maalet ("flower"). Some texts distinguish this as a light phase dilute from a dark phase dilute, called Parort ("mercury"). Biologically, this is interpreted as silver tipping in the former. Another name for this cat is "Korat", named by King Rama V according to their province of origin, and now become an official breed name both in Thailand and abroad. Colloquially, it is the "Si Sawad" (colour of the sawad seed).
Chuchai and Phimai
Chuchai Wisetjindawat, based in Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima, is undoubtedly the foremost breeder of Korats in Thailand. He started his work with Korats in 1993, and gained official recognition in 1995 with cat shows at Phimai Annual Festival. In 1997 he became chairman of the Phimai Association for Korat Cat Conservation, whose members are a network of Phimai locals, mostly farmers deep in the countryside. Chuchai has frequently shown his cats in Bangkok and won many trophies.
Korat Gallery: Phimai
Except for kittens in the plastic bowl, and the poor fellow in the cage, who belong to Phuyai Tia, all cats here belong to Khun Chuchai. The kittens are at his home in Phimai and all the adults at his cattery in the country. The cat on the stone flags is one of the stars of Cats 101.
Arriving in Phimai, it is very hard to miss the red sandstone Khmer temple which dominates the town centre and is over 1,000 years old.
Known then as " Vimayapura", the town was an important outpost of the Khmer Empire centred at Angkor, and its temple displays mixed Hindu and Buddhist iconography following the succession of the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century AD.
Chuchai Wisetjindawat frequently guides visitors around and his knowledge brings the temple alive: in one frieze, a monkey, one of Vishnu's retinue, is clearly picking his nose, a subversive bit of humour from an anonymous Khmer stone carver which has survived the centuries.
Imagining a bustling Vimayapura at the height of its Khmer splendour, might its inhabitants have known or treasured a silvery grey cat? Chuchai seemed to think it was possible, as his in-depth knowledge of the area and its traditions points to origins at the nearby villages of Ban Tamyae or Ban Rang Ka. We did not talk about this much further, but here they are located on Google maps relative to Phimai: a few kilometers east or west, an easy walk for a cat.
Suggestively, this poster about the Korat Cat is viewable in the Phimai Historical Park Visitor Centre.
Whatever the precise date the Korat cat emerged in Thailand's Northeast, it is undoubtedly still feral there. On Eva's visit, we travelled to view Sai Ngam, an extensive Banyan tree on Phimai's outskirts. By some coincidence, we discovered a family of Korats living off the leftovers from the local restaurants, whose quality was sufficient for Chuchai to bag a young male for his breeding programme.
Out in the country
Phuyai Tia, or Village Headman Tia, is one of K Chuchai's Korat cat breeding collaborators. Here's a bowl of Korat kittens from one of his breeding pairs.
Eva, Elaine and Kate
I've known Eva Krynda since we were making the book, when we took a memorable journey with her partner Jose and Michael Spenser, then writing for THAI International's inflight magazine Sawasdee, to meet Chuchai for the first time. A few months after the Cats 101 shoot, she returned to Thailand in February 2012, this time in the company of her friends Elaine and Kate. Here they are after paying respects to the statue of Princess Suranari in Korat town.
O Lady Cat...
I never thought I'd live to see a real rain ceremony, but Chuchai organized a magnificent response to my request for rain ceremony for the Animal Planet cameras. Our van was welcomed by most of the village population, marquees, a dance show from the little girls, and we were honoured by the presence of local bigwigs, including both the current and former MPs!
A white-robed Brahmin conducted all the necessary rituals before the Korat cat, hand-picked by Chuchai to cope with the ordeal, was secured in her basket and set off on her journey around the village. Our cameraman Marc taped a little Go Pro camera inside the basket to capture her reaction to the splashing.
We were there in August, so there was plenty of rain about, as opposed to the drought periods of March-April, when the ceremony would usually be applied. Also, our ceremony did not cover the whole village, but nonetheless captured the interactive nature of all the villagers in each house being involved in the splashing. All in all, despite being staged for us, it had the feeling of authenticity, that this was what the ceremony would look like when conducted in earnest. Finally things came to an end and we were off to Chuchai's cattery for close-ups.
Traditional representations of the rain ceremony
This picture in the traditional style was garnered from an anonymous website, but worthy of sharing. It shows the propitiation ceremonies we observed in Phimai.
My good friend Jon Taaffe acquired this gorgeous tapestry in Phrae, in the North of Thailand. Now framed on his wall in Kamphaengphet, I took some detail of motifs repeated over the whole tapestry which is about 2 m by 1 m in size.
Rain ceremony in the newspaper
The Nation, Wednesday July 27, 2005: “Villagers at drought stricken Baan Thonglang in Khon Kaen’s Muang district parade a cat along the streets as part of an old superstitious rain-begging rite yesterday.” I can’t make out the cat in this photo, so have no clue as to what type it is. This caption ran alongside a story about Cabinet approving a 4.6 billion budget for drought-hit areas, so this rain ceremony was as much a call for attention from the authorities as a genuine attempt to get rain in itself. The July dateline is also interesting – if there has been no rain by July, this is very unusual, so desperate situations call for desperate measures!
Si Sawad is another name for the Korat, so said because the sawad plant has grey seeds, the colour of the cat. Thais toss the term "si sawad" around as if the plant was a common thing that everyone would know, but in fact the sawad plant (a climber with the scientific name Caesalpinia crista) and its seeds are not everyday items. On the trip to Phimai with Eva Krynda, I finally got to see a med sawat for the first time. In dimension, it is about the size of a thumbnail. Chuchai had got some, from I know not where, and gave another one to Eva. Modern cameras are microscopes to some degree, and this picture has clear detail of the seed's surface - the main colour light grey, with unexpected darker grey contour lines and a few specks of stained-in dirt. Conclusive proof that the colour signification of "si sawad" is a Korat cat!
Beautifully of its time, this tourist poster was sent to me by Daphne Negus. It is dated by the "Tourist Organization of Thailand" logo in use from 1963-1979, before that body morphed into the current "Tourism Authority of Thailand". You've immediately spotted the discrepancy, right? The lady's cat is said to be Siamese, but looks pretty grey to me - yes, it's a Korat, down to those sparkling green eyes! So what's the interpretation? Like Somkiat said, there is confusion in the popular mind between the two types. This aside, there continues the feeling that it is the Korat which Thais prefer the look of, which makes it the most popular "Siamese cat" of the two - not semantically wrong, if you accept that Korat cats come from Siam every bit as much as the Wichienmas do.
Cats I used to own: Part 4
The last "Mongkon", a neutered Korat given to me by Khun Aree Yoobamrung,a breeder no longer active.
Khun Istzy Rattanaweerawong
Khun Issiriya, or Khun It, and his partner, are owners of the Sri Sawasdee Cattery, a recent new force on the Thai cat breeding scene, based in Nonthaburi and specializing in Korat and Khaomanee in particular. He’s been very successful at local cat shows with many trophies and rosettes for his very well kept animals. Here is a PDF file of his articles in various cat magazines.
Phimai Fair 2012
Every year around the start of November, Phimai Town has its annual fair, of which the highlights include long boat races, a sound and light show staged at the famous Khmer temple, and a cat show. The cat show occurred on November 10, 2012, and was attended by Bobbie Weirauch and Robin Bryan from the USA, as well as Eva and Kate from Australia. It was sweltering hot and rather crowded, and the cats were visibly thirsty! Prizes were given, including rosettes from USA, Europe and Australia, for Korats, Wichienmas, Khaomanee and house cats. Khun Istzy was there and swept the board with his Korats. We also dropped by Chuchai’s house and cattery.
Cats at the show.
Khun Chuchai with the Deputy Governor of Nakhon Ratchasima.
Poster of cats in the Tamra Maew.
General atmosphere of the show.
Local people brought their cats to compete: Korat and Housecat categories respectively.
Judging in progess.
Governor of Nakhon Ratchasima presented the Royal Trophy in the Gift of HM the Queen to Khun Istzy for his Korat.
Eva presented a lesser award to Khun Istzy, including a bag of cat food.
Rosettes from cat clubs and breeders in Europe, USA and Australia.
From left to right: Kate, Eva, Bobbie and Robin.
Royal trophy at Phimai Fair
K Chuchai set up the prize stand with photos of the presentation of Korat cats to HRH Princess Vanvari Mahidol and a trophy in the Gift of Her Majesty the Queen.
This photo shows K Chuchai making the presentation to HRH Princess Vanvari Mahidol.
The legend on the trophy reads as follows:
Phimai-Nakhon Ratchasima Tourism Fair 2012
organized by Department of Fine Arts, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Nakhon Ratchasima Provincial Administration Organization, Phimai District Administration Organization
November 10-11, 2012
Korat Cat gallery part 2
From the visit to K Chuchai's house and cattery after the Phimai Fair in November 2012.
A very beautiful cat at K Chuchai's home.
A rather older cat at K Chuchai's home.
Grown cats at K Chichai's cattery.
A Korat kitten with white mittens. It is interesting how the white spotting gene managed to crop up in this very controlled population of pure Korats.
Eva's Nong Noon and Mook Mai
Eva Krynda's friends Bew and Nolan reared this pair of kittens from Khun Chuchai which are presumed to enter Korat breeding circles if not in Eva's native Australia this generation. These kitties look gorgeous.
Above and below, Mook Mai.
Above and below, Nong Noon.
K Bew with K Chuchai at Chuchai's home.